Knowing About Buddhism and Its Sects
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Knowing About Buddhism and Its Sects

Buddhism is a pacifist religion that has a number of sects. All the sects believe in the Buddha, but follow slightly different paths to achieve Nirvana

Islam and Christianity have different sects, which are basically a part of the mother religion. Thus Christians have Protestants and Catholics and Islam has the Sunni and Shia sects. All these sects claim allegiance to Jesus Christ and Muhammad respectively. Similarly Buddhism also has different sects all of whom believe in the Buddha as the supreme lord.

 Gautama Buddha the founder of the Buddhist faith lived in North India from 563BC-483BC. The religion he founded had strains of Hinduism.  Gautama was a Vedic Brahmin and many of his ideas were originally part of the ancient traditional Hinduism of that period. Buddha is also recognized as the 9th avatar of Vishnu in Hinduism

 Buddhism is a religion that revolves around beliefs and practices, which bring a believer closer to Buddha hood – which is the highest level of spiritual awareness.

Buddhism spread from India, but it died in India and thrived in faraway lands. As such it was inevitable that the religion would split into different sects. All the sects however share a common belief in the basic tenet of Buddhism which is the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path to achieve Buddha hood.

 Buddhism has 3 main sects namely Theravada Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism and Northern or Tibetan Buddhism.

a)     Theravada Buddhism. This is the oldest school of Buddhist thought .The word Theravada is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘the teaching of the elders’. This form of Buddhism is predominate in SE Asia, Sri Lanka and has minority followers in Southwest China. It has about 200 million followers.  Theravada Buddhism is supposed to lay down   the original concept of salvation as enunciated by Buddha.

Theravada Buddhism lays stress on the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Middle path. It also gives importance to mental development and meditation. It must be understood that a Buddha is a person who has achieved complete enlightenment. Such a person is called an Arahant. He is a person who has eradicated all ten hindrances to enlightenment. These hindrances are  

  1.  ego
  2. Doubt and skepticism
  3. Attachment to rites, rituals, and ceremonies
  4. Attachment to sense desires
  5. Ill-will and  anger
  6. Craving for existence in the present world.
  7. Craving for existence in the after world
  8. Conceit
  9. Restlessness
  10. Ignorance

There are 3 further classes of believers. They are

i)     Anagami.  He is a human who completely eradicates the first 5 hindrances. He   never returns to this world.  Such a person is re-born to a heavenly realm and attains enlightenment there.

ii)   Sakadagami.  He is a human who has mastered the first 3 hindrances and partially overcome the 4th and 5th hindrances. Such a person will have rebirth in  either a human or heavenly realm.

iii)  Sottapanna. He is a person who has eradicated the first 3 hindrances. Such a person   will be reborn at least 7 times either as a Human or a Deva.

b)     Mahayana Buddhism. This the second type of Buddhism. Mahayana Buddhism emerged in the first century CE. It is a more liberal interpretation of Buddhism. Mahayana is a path that can be followed by people from all walks of life and is not confined to monks and ascetics.

This form of Buddhism is followed in North Asia and the Far East including Japan, Mongolia and Korea.

Mahayana accepts the scriptures of the Theravadas, but in addition it also accepts many other works, the Sutras, which were written later in Sanskrit.

There is a slight difference between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhists.  Theravada Buddhists strive to become arhats, or perfected saints. This state can only be reached by monks and nuns, after a life time of devotion.

 Mahayana Buddhists, on the other hand, strive for  boddhisatvas. These are saints who have become enlightened but delay nirvana to help others attain it as well, as the Buddha did.  Mahayana tradition has many other sub divisions like Zen, Nichiren and Pure Land, which promote different ways of attaining this goal

The Mahayana form of Buddhism includes veneration of celestial beings, Buddha’s and Bodhisattvas, ceremonies, religious rituals and magical rites.

Northern or Tibetan Buddhism. This is the third form of Buddhism. It is somewhat akin to Mahayana Buddhism; however this Buddhism also embraces other teachings, texts and practices. It is also referred to as Tantric Buddhism or Vajrayana. This type of Buddhism uses the Mahayana and Theravada scriptures. In addition it also focuses on Buddhist Tantra. The concept of Tantra is borrowed from Hinduism.

Buddhism is a pacifist religion. All its 3 sects believe in the Buddha, only the paths to achieve Nirvana are slightly different.

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